The trial of former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nasir El-Rufai, for abuse of public office and illegal conversion of land was again stalled following the absence of a prosecution witness.
Mr. El-Rufai was charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside Altine Jibrin, the former Director-General of the Abuja Geographical Information System (AGIS) and its former General Manager, Ismail Iro.
The EFCC is charging the trio with abuse of public office and illegal conversion of a land meant for the construction of transmitting/injection sub-stations of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) at Plot 1201 of Asokoro District.
In the charges, the former minister was accused of allocating 10 plots of land to his wives and associate in sheer disregard of the law guiding land allocation.
The offences are punishable under Section 26 of the ICPC Act 2000.
The EFCC claimed that Messrs. El-rufai, Jibrin and Iro committed the offence between 2003 and 2007.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Wednesday, EFCC Counsel, Abdulkarim Adeye, told the court that the key witness, Sunday Idowu, was not in court.
Mr. Adeye, who held brief for the lead counsel, Adebayo Adelodun (SAN), regretted the absence of Mr. Idowu in the court, which he said was due to ill health.
He told the court that he received a letter from the EFCC, which said that Mr. Idowu is ill and had been given an excuse from duty.
The EFCC counsel prayed the court to grant a short adjournment to enable Mr. Idowu, a key witness in the trial, to get better so he could continue with his testimony.
At the last sitting, Mr. Idowu , an inspector of police, who was formerly with the EFCC, testified, telling the court that investigations he carried out revealed that Mr. El-rufai did not declare all his assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Regarding the revoked Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) plot in Maitama, Mr. Idowu said it was meant for a post office, but he did not know the terms of allocation to NIPOST, and could not say if NIPOST was in breach of those terms.
He denied knowing that NIPOST had leased the land to Rosehill, a private firm.
He however affirmed that he read the statement of Mr. El-Rufai; but when told that the first accused disclosed NIPOST’s lease to Rosehill in that statement, Mr. Idowu said he could not remember everything about the case. When asked why the Rosehill lease was not investigated, Mr. Idowu said NIPOST did not disclose it.
Mr. Idowu, who said he had served in the police for 24 years, further testified that he did not know that Rosehill requested the first accused to transfer the NIPOST allocation to them, but he conceded that the FCT minister had the right to allocate and revoke plots of land.
The EFCC counsel had told the court that if granted an adjournment, the prosecution would make sure that it presented all witnesses by the next adjourned date.
In response, Counsel to the three accused persons, Kanu Agabi (SAN), did not object to the prayer of the prosecution for an adjournment.
Mr. Agabi, however, urged the court to take judicial notice that since the trial started in October 2010, adjournments had been at the instance of the prosecution.
He said this was not the first time the case would be suffering at the instance of the prosecution.
In granting the adjournment, Justice Abubakar Umar ordered the EFCC to produce all its witnesses by Wednesday, May 23.
“If by May 23, your witness, Mr. Idowu, is not in court for cross examination, you should be able to unfailingly present your other witnesses,” Justice Umar said.
Spokesperson for Mr. El-Rufai, Muyiwa Adekeye, said in a statement after Wednesday’s hearing that Mr. El Rufai still maintained his stand that the trial was just an attempt by the government to persecute him.
“When he returned to the country on 1 May 2010, El-Rufai announced that fighting the case was his priority. He was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Abuja, but the court quashed the charges, agreeing with his argument that he was being arraigned in a wrong court under a wrong law,” Mr. Adekeye said.